Skin Purging: What Is It and How Does It Work?

You’d be forgiven for initially thinking that “skin purging” is a bad thing. After all, the term doesn’t exactly sound inviting—right?

However, skin purging is what happens when you use a new skincare product, tool, or process. And it may surprise you to learn that this is actually a sign that it’s working.

Scratching your head? Not to worry—keep reading because we’re about to let you in on all the insider secrets when it comes to purging skin.

What Is Skin Purging?

First things first, what exactly is skin purging? Allow us to break it down for you.

According to Dictionary.com, “purging” is the action of clearing, emptying, or purifying.

“Skin purging,” then, is the process of shedding dead cells, oil, and bacteria underneath the surface of the skin. It often occurs as your skin is trying to adjust to something new, whether this is an exfoliating mask or a facial cleansing massager.

Skin purging doesn’t happen for everyone though. It’s more common in people with severe and cystic acne.

If you’re currently dealing with skin purging, we understand that it’s not ideal. Having said that, it’s important to realize that it’s totally normal and it will soon pass.

What Does Skin Purging Look Like?

You could mistake skin purging for a breakout. Why? Well, it’s likely that your pores will be clogged, resulting in the clusters of small, red bumps that you usually experience during a breakout.

That said, purging breakouts tend to be more intense than normal. You may experience larger pimples or even pustules, which is a bulging patch of skin that's full of pus.

In truth, everybody’s skin is unique. How skin purging looks and feels to one person can vary substantially from the next.

What Can Cause Skin Purging?

There are a few different causes of skin purging. Let’s address each one of them now.

New Products

Skin purging can occur if you begin using a new product that contains chemical exfoliants. These chemical exfoliants include:

  • Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic acid and mandelic acid
  • Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), such as lactic acid and salicylic acid
  • Benzoyl Peroxide
  • Vitamin C (even though the benefits of vitamin C serum are endless!)
  • Retinoids, such as retinol, adapalene, and tretinoin

Speaking of tretinoin, one study found that this prescription topical retinoid is a common cause for purging in acne sufferers. 15.4% of patients with moderate acne experienced purging, and so did 23.8% of patients with severe acne.

It is the active ingredients in these chemical exfoliants that can initially cause your skin to get worse before it gets better.

New Tools

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just chemical exfoliants that can prompt the skin to purge. Facial exfoliants can have the same effect, including a:

  • Scrub
  • Facial cleansing massage brush
  • Sonic facial cleansing device
  • Enzyme exfoliant

In fact, these skincare tools can result in purging from the first time that you use them.

New Treatments

Sometimes having a new treatment can make the skin purge. We’re talking about:

  • Chemical peels
  • Laser treatments
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Microneedling

(To name a few!)

This is typically down to the products or facial exfoliants used in the treatment.

meejee-chemical-peel

How Does Skin Purging Work?

Basically, a new skincare product, tool, or treatment can speed up the rate of skin cell turnover. This is the rate at which your skin sheds its cells and replaces them with new ones.

The good news is that by accelerating the process of skin cell turnover, you can accelerate the unveiling of healthier skin cells. 

However, there is some bad news too—first, your skin needs to bring out all the gunk that was hiding underneath the surface.

In other words, the pimples and cysts that were supposed to come to the surface in the future decide to come out sooner (and all at once!). Eek.

These effects trigger an immune response in your skin because the body is essentially overreacting to send help to the skin, resulting in inflammation and breakouts. Any existing imperfections may also be aggravated.

Even so, skin purging doesn’t usually last for long.

What is the Difference Between Skin Purging and Breakouts?

Wondering if you’re experiencing skin purging or just a general breakout? It may interest you to know that there’s one major difference between the two.

When your skin is breaking out, the spots will appear in places that they usually do already (and at random). On the other hand, when your skin is purging, you will experience new clogged pores and heightened skin irritation all over your face at the same time. You could even have a rash.

Needless to say, this can be alarming. But before you disregard whatever new thing you’ve decided to put on your skin, give it a chance to work.

How Long Does Skin Purging Last?

Skin purging can last anything from four days to six weeks. On average, it will occur for around two weeks as your skin finishes going through the adjustment period.

Although it can be frustrating and feel counterproductive, stick with the breakouts. The skin has to clear itself before it can reveal the best results of your latest skincare endeavor.

How to Treat Skin Purging

There are a few things that you can do while your skin is purging away.

Be Gentle with the Skin

Firstly, try not to touch your skin or pick the pimples. You could end up making the purging worse.

Similarly, avoid using harsh products on the skin like strong chemical exfoliants. Instead, choose gentler ingredients and formulas until you can see that your skin is showing improvement.

For example:

  • Hydrate the skin with a gentle or low-percentage salicylic cleanser.
  • Use a non-comedogenic moisturizer, which means that a product has been formulated so that it doesn’t block the pores.
  • Consider having an LED light treatment (or similar) to calm the skin.

Speaking of, you could even use some cooling facial globes during purging, like meejee’s facial cooling globe duo to refresh and revitalize the skin.

Look Out for Skin Barrier Damage

It’s not uncommon for the skin barrier to be compromised during purging.

How can you tell if your skin barrier is becoming damaged? Well, look for signs of dryness, dullness, redness, and sensitivity, as well as breakouts.

If this happens to you, don’t stress—you can repair any skin barrier damage just by including ingredients in your skincare routine that help with barrier repair. These ingredients consist of ceramides and hyaluronic acid (but only in a non-comedogenic formulation).

On a side note, there are many benefits of hyaluronic serum to reduce redness, dermatitis, and wrinkles.

Review Your Approach

If you can see noticeable signs of skin barrier damage or your skin seems to be getting angrier, take a step back.

You don’t have to discontinue using your new product, tool, or process. Rather, continue with a slower approach.

For instance, use a skincare tool like meejee’s face cleansing massager once per week instead of the recommended three times. You can build up to twice per week and then three times per week once purging seems to be complete.

facial-cleansing-massager-yellow

Avoid Sun Exposure

Spending time in the sun while your skin is purging can irritate it further. Instead, avoid extended sun exposure wherever possible.

If you’re going to be out in the sun, apply plenty of sunscreen with SPF 30+ to protect your skin.

Hang in There

Finally, we get that skin purging is discouraging and frustrating to deal with. That said, try to understand that purging is often what you have to go through to ultimately improve your skin.

If your skin is purging for more than six weeks, you may need to reassess the situation. Truth be told, this could indicate that your skincare routine needs amending.

The Takeaway

When you start using a new skincare product, tool, or treatment, skin purging is often compared to “cleansing the pipes.” Simply put, a lot of goo has to come up before things start to clear.

Just be patient and keep persevering! It won’t be long before you get the results you want (and deserve!) for your skin.